Everyone has seen the photos of the vintage large-diaphragm tube microphone hanging upside down in front of the vocalist like on this famous photo on the left, and while it looks very cool, there really was a method to the madness for placing it like this. It’s not something that’s regularly taught in schools or to assistants anymore (since there are fewer commercial studios around), but here are a few reasons that large condenser microphones have been hung like this for a long time:
• The rationale behind hanging a mic upside down comes from tube mics. The heat rising from the tube can cause the diaphragm to change temperature over time, which will change the sound of the mic. Placing the tube above the capsule will let the heat rise without passing over the diaphragm.
• Another thing that happens is that the vocalist sings slightly upward into the mic, which forces the airway open and encourages a full-body voice. Take a deep breath and sing a low note, start with your chin to your chest, and slowly lift your head until your chin has about a 15-degree lift. Hear any difference?
• Maybe even more important, the mic can be positioned so the singer is less likely to direct popping air blasts into the mic.
• It’s also easier for the singer to read any music or lyrics since it’s out of the way.
One of the biggest concerns with hanging a microphone upside down is increased plosives. This shouldn’t be the case with the right placement though. As you can see from the Sinatra photo above, the mic is placed above the mouth pointed at the nose. That way any plosive happens below the mic’s diaphragm.
Placement at eye level, or at a 45 degree angle away from the mouth, can also be effective as long as the microphone’s diaphragm is pointed directly at the mouth. That way any plosives are directed away from the diaphragm.
As you can see from the above, the biggest reason the microphone was to make sure that the heat didn’t interfere with the tube mic’s capsule, but it can also help the singer’s performance as well. Of course, the key to all this is a big sturdy boom stand, or you’ll find your mic crashing to the ground sooner or later. Make sure to get the counterweight high in the air so nobody walks into it (cover it with foam as well).
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
People also ask:
Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with the practice, not much is gained when placing dynamic or ribbon microphones, or even solid state condenser mics, upside down. Only microphones with a tube inside can benefit from the practice since the heat is directed away from the capsule.
Yes, there’s no problem with placing a condenser microphone in that fashion.
Yes, since the heat is directed away from the capsule, the same benefits apply as illustrated above.
There’s no wrong answer to this one as it depends on the singer, the song, the arrangement, and a host of other factors. Generally speaking, if the vocalist is very quiet or whispering, then you want to get closer. If the vocalist has a loud voice, then further away works better.